Vienna Symphonic Library – SYNCHRON-ized Appassionata Strings
In this review guest writer Kevin Kearne follows up on his recent in depth look at VSL – SYNCHRON-ized Special Edition Vol 1 & 2, with a detailed overview of VSL – SYNCHRON-ized Appassionata Strings.
Formerly known as just Appassionata Strings, the revision has brought with it the NKS treatment, including some unique refinements designed to take particular advantage of Appassionata’s special characteristics via NKS. Plus, you now have the opportunity to purchase Appassionata Strings as part of VSL’s December voucher promotion available at
Over to Kevin…
Appassionata Strings …
Appassionata Strings is a collection of oversized string sections. With 20 first violins, 20 second violins, 14 violas, 12 cellos and 10 double basses, these lavish ensembles will lend themselves perfectly well to soaring emotive themes as well as action-packed scores.
I first used Appassionata Strings in its original Vienna Instruments incarnation on my 2008 Real Music CD, Endless Blue Sky, where I employed its lush character to provide the string beds to compliment my piano playing as well as live acoustic guitar, violin and cello soloists.
Download & Installation…
Downloading and installing Special Edition instruments involves the use of both a Vienna Download Manager and an eLicenser Control Center by Steinberg, combined with a USB dongle called a Vienna Key, sold separately for €24.00. USD prices are approximate and may fluctuate with currency exchange rates. For this reason, all prices will be quoted in euros. It is strongly recommended that you download the latest eLicenser and Vienna Download Manager before downloading instruments. ELicenser Control Center can be downloaded from
Furthermore, the KK installers are not packaged with the conventional installers. You will find them under Templates instead of under Software Downloads. This is important because you won’t get KK accessibility without these templates.
As mentioned in my SE review, VSL’s website is pretty manageable using either JAWS or NVDA . I have also read through their site using VO on a Mac but have never downloaded or installed instruments on a Mac. As such, everything that follows in this article presumes that you are using windows. I use Reaper and OSARA for my VSL work but it should be possible to use Samplitude just as easily.
Once you have downloaded and installed both the Vienna Download Manager and the Licenser Control Center, you simply have to click on the license code in the e-mail you receive from VSL. This is much easier to do if you have access to your e-mail on the same computer where your DAW, Komplete Kontrol and your libraries all live. I used NVDA for this and was presented with a window asking me if I wanted to allow this website to open a program on my computer. By default, I was placed on Cancel. I NVDA left arrowed to Allow and pressed Alt A which opened Vienna Download Manager. Since I had already chosen a default path for downloads in Vienna Download Manager, I simply tabbed three times, confirming my destination location and hit OK. This put me in the Download Manager and the download began. I was unable to accessibly monitor the progress of the download until I Alt Tabbed out of the Download Manager and back in. Thereafter, I could arrow around and hear the progress of the download. This is a large download. so, expect to wait a while.
As soon as one of the files finished, I was sent to the eLicenser to download the required license.
The activation code was already in the box and I simply had to tab to Activate and hit Enter. When the license was activated, I was automatically put on Continue, and hitting SPACE put me on the Start Usage period button. Hitting space again started the license usage period. Pressing SPACE once more welcomed me to the Library Installer.
There was a large box full of files with checkmarks on them indicating that they were ready to be installed. Pressing Next sent me to the license agreement. I accepted the license agreement and hit Next once more which put me in a box where I was asked if I wanted to put the new content in the existing folder. This was chosen by default and I just clicked Next again and more content was loaded into place. Once the license was activated, I finally closed the eLicenser and the Download manager after choosing to delete all the downloaded files from the Download Manager.
Browse & Listen…
Let’s take a moment to load some of the patches from this library. For the purposes of this review, I’m sorting by Vender. In the KK Browser, the buttons are laid out as follows:
Knob 1 Vendor
Knob 2 Product
Knob 3 Bank
Knob 4 Not assigned
Knob 5 Type
Knob 6 Subtypes
Knob 7 Not assigned
Knob 8 Preset
Regardless of whether you search by bank or by type and subtype, you will have the ability to sort through First and Second Violins, Cellos, double Basses, ensembles and Violas. Note that, when searching by banks, Ensembles are referred to as “All Strings.”
Let’s take a look at the cellos as an example. The patches shown here have corresponding articulations in each of the other sections and include:
Let’s load the Cellos Classic patch and look at what you’re given in Plugin Mode. There are two pages of parameters and they are as follows:
Page 1, PLAY:
Knob 1 Master level
Knob 2 Expression
Knob 3 Vel XF ON/OFF
Knob 4 Vel XF
NOTE: See below for an in depth discussion on velocity, tremolo and vibrato cross-fading.
Marc attack (short for Marcato attack.)
Knob 6 Vibrato Select
Knob 7 Vibrato XF
Knob 8 Tremolo XF.
Page 2 EDIT and HUMANIZE:
Knob 1 Legato Blur, a function designed to give even greater legato to note transitions. Notes must be overlapping to begin with.
Knob 2 Dynamic Range. This is designed to alter the velocity response of the keyboard at a fine level. When all the way down, you can play incredibly softly. when all the way up, velocity is essentially negated in the same manner as having Velocity crossfade off. Knob 3 Attack
Knob 4 Release
Knob 5 Delay Scale. ( According to Patrick Weber at VSL, this feature is for scaling the tuning curve.
Knob 6 tuning
Knob 7 Amount. (
Knob 8 Not assigned.
Delay and Tuning are the 2 parameters that HUMANIZE consists of.
For more information, read here:
When you choose one of the All Strings patches, a third page of NKS mappings called “Mix” is added. this page allows the user to mix and match the volume levels of individual lines within the ensemble. In this case, the knobs are as follows:
Knob 1 First violins
Knob 2 Second violins
Knob 3 Violas
Knob 4 Not assigned
Knob 5 Cellos
Knob 6 Double basses
Knobs 7 and 8 are not assigned.
Note that, because Appassionata Strings has its patches laid out in terms of individual mixes, each devoted to one specific mic position, it does not allow you to mix and match the various mic positions in exactly the same way a blind KK user would in libraries from other companies. To do this accessibly, one needs to have a track containing Midi data which is then routed to one kK instance corresponding to each of the five mic positions available. These instances, in turn, would be routed to audio tracks which would be sent to distinct corresponding outputs. The user could then alter the relative volume and EQ of each specific output for each particular mic position on each instrument or section at the audio level.
At this time, SE Vol 3 is the only avenue you have for the con sordino Appassionata strings. As a result, there is only one available mic position for con sordino Appassionata Strings. However, I have been informed that an extended library containing con sordino Appassionata Strings is planned for future release.
Appassionata Strings In Use…
Not withstanding these temporary limitations, I did learn something interesting about VSL’s approach to construction of a full keyboard string section that anyone can apply in any DAW with any other library. I would encourage users to examine this, particularly if you are just beginning to learn orchestration.
By turning each of the individual sections up and down you can find out where they overlap on the keyboard.
Using the All Strings Classic patch as an example, we see that the first two pages of the NKS layout are as above . Let’s focus on the key switches in Appassionata Strings which begin on C-1. (Minus 1 for those with their screen reader punctuation set to none.)
C minus 1. Short notes. This key switch exposes three further key switches, Spiccato on F0, Staccato on F#0 and Detache on G0
C#-1. Long notes. This exposes three further key switches: Soft on F0, Normal on F#0 and Marcato on G0.
NOTE: When the Marcato key switch is invoked, the Marcato Attack assigned to knob 5 kicks in, allowing you to alter the degree of marcato in the attack for greater subtlety.
D minus 1. Long notes (copy). This appears to be exactly what it says, an exact copy of the articulations assigned under Long notes on C# minus 1. I’ve been informed that this copy differs in terms of subtle alterations available through the mod wheel.
D #minus 1. Dynamics. This exposes Sforzato on F0 and Fortepiano on F#0.
E minus 1. Tremolo. This exposes Tremolo on F0 and Tremolo Marcato on F#0. When Tremolo Marcato is invoked, the same flexible marcato attack is available through knob 5 as above.
F minus 1. Slides up.
F# minus 1. Slides down.
These are not portamento glides. They are slides with a fixed speed coming from a fixed distance away from the target note in each case and are not subject to velocity or any other modifying parameter.
G minus1. Pizzicato.
VELOCITY, TREMOLO and VIBRATO CROSS-FADING
As promised, I want to bring special attention to a collection of features I’ve never seen implemented so accessibly in any other string library. Some of this information appeared in my Special Edition review, however I will reprise it here for your convenience.
One of my favourite characteristics of the VSL line for strings is the presence of the two adjacent knobs marked VELXF ON/OFF and VELXF. Whereas other major players in the orchestral space intentionally make their long notes velocity insensitive, requiring the player to utilize a combination of Expression and Dynamics to alter volume and crossfade between dynamic layers, VSL gives the user the option of switching between two states by means of two KK knobs assigned to Velocity Fade ON/OFF and Velocity XF respectively.
When the Velocity XF ON/OFF is set to the OFF position, regular velocity applies as one plays the keyboard. In that case, the Velocity XF knob is inactive. When the Velocity XF knob is set to the ON position, velocity is removed from the keyboard and is controlled by the adjacent Velocity XF knob which allows the user to crossfade in real time between layers.
The result can be heard in crescendos which build more convincingly and with more control than you can get with other libraries.
The other noteworthy feature is the remarkable attention VSL has given, particularly in Appassionata Strings, to vibrato cross-fading. This is achieved by way of two more adjacent controls labelled Vibrato Select and Vibrato XF.
The vibrato Select allows the user to move between five distinct vibrato states:
XF Vib Strong
XF Vib Regular.
Each one of these states occupies 20% of the knob’s range. So, if you have control surface feedback enabled, such as is possible with the latest OSARA in Reaper with Control Surface Feedback, simply dialling within those 20% regions will move you accessibly between the five available states.
When the latter two states are active, the vibrato XF knob moves the user between no vibrato and either regular or strong. To my mind, these two features, velocity and vibrato cross-fade, are what set Appassionata Strings apart from both the competition and the rest of the VSL string line.
Trills, No Frills…
There are no whole or half step trills in Appassionata Strings. According to Paul Kopf, Product Manager at VSL, “At the time we recorded Appassionata Strings, we already had our “performance trills” in place, which is a round robin of fast note transitions up to a 4th or 5th.
This way, you can play the trill yourself, with all changes in tempo you’d like to hear, even switching between intervals! We’ll see when we can add this articulation, it is NOT included with SYNCHRON-ized Appassionata Strings yet.”
Also, with respect to accessibility, I did notice one minor problem which only presented itself in Appassionata Strings, either in SE or in its own library. The problem involves extraneous speech chatter when OSARA’s control surface feedback was turned on.
In this condition, every time you played notes on your Midi keyboard, JAWS or NVDA would add extraneous numerical values. I sent detailed instructions on how to reproduce the problem and was assured that this would be examined. You can avoid this by simply turning off control surface feed back when using Appassionata Strings, or by blocking control surface feedback by leaving the plugin’s UI on screen until a solution is provided.
It’s important to understand that this does not negate the spectacular accessibility available with this one of a kind library.
The ability to finally have this extraordinary high quality library available with the level of accessibility achieved by VSL with their implementation of NKS means that blind and visually impaired music creators can now have the world’s very best professional tools at their fingertips for the first time.
VSL Appassionata Strings is available for €445.00 and is available as part of VSL’s December voucher promotion. For more information on this, visit
December 28th, 2020
About The Author…
Kevin Kern is a New Age pianist, composer and Steinway Artist whose recorded output spans 25 years and eleven CDs, including six billboard charting albums. The most successful of which, In The enchanted Garden, spent a combined 26 weeks on billboard’s New Age chart. For more information on Kevin, visit
KK-Access.com or it’s authors accept no responsibility for subsequent purchase decisions made as a result of this article,or Any inaccuracies found within this review. All opinions or product functions stated are based solely on information perceived as a blind user whilst using the product or gathered from official factual sources on the web, developer or product manual.